Hello everyone! Happy Halloween!!!!! As you might be able to tell, October has turned out to be an incredibly busy month for me. I shall plan better in the future, but alas, college applications had to be completed. However, I have read several ARCs recently and I’m am quite excited to share my opinions about them!!!!
Title: That Inevitable Victorian Thing
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Author: E. K. Johnston
Publishing: October 3rd 2017 by Dutton Books for Young Readers
Genre: YA; Science Fiction; Romance
Date Read: September 2017
Set in a near-future world where the British Empire was preserved, not by the cost of blood and theft but by effort of repatriation and promises kept, That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a novel of love, duty, and the small moments that can change people and the world.
Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendant of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history two centuries earlier. The imperial practice of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage like her mother before her, but before she does her duty, she’ll have one summer incognito in a far corner of empire. In Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire’s greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir apparent to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an unusual bond and maybe a one in a million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process —just like the first Queen Victoria.
I was incredibly curious when I read the premise of That Inevitable Victorian Thing…for one thing I haven’t read that many books set in Canada–much less a Canadian book set in an alternative future. But the historical premise (and idea of alternative history leading to an alternative history) could have been better explained; I had to return to the blurb to figure out exactly what had been changed. It might be good to note that most American teenagers aren’t super familiar with the actual history of the British Empire and I had to familiarize myself in order to fully understand the context of the opening. However, once I was into it, the exposition reminded me quite a bit of The Selection series. The initial introduction to all of the characters and the glamour of “debut” culture was very romantic. I also was quite fascinated by the role that genetics played in the picking of romantic partners in this novel–but I wish that some of this had been provided with the context and not later into the novel.
After the promising initial introduction to the cast of characters I quickly ran into the problem that all of their Christianized names were so common and similar that I had trouble remembering Margaret from Victoria from…well, you get the idea. This problem was exasperated from my constant desire for the characters to just be more. These characters never felt like teenagers on the cusp of adulthood–they talked and spoke and acted much more like fourteen year olds dealing with the problems of people four years older than them. I would have expected all of them to have more maturity–I think that would have helped expose this novel to an older audience as well (in its current form this novel would probably be limited to a lower YA audience). I also was a little disappointed with the rehashing of The Princess Diaries premise that was not at all revamped–this was just a simple inclusion of this trope. I was surprised by this…there were many different directions this could have gone in and yet Johnston made no effort to stretch the imagination of her audience.
For it’s faults… That Inevitable Victorian Thing did stretch itself in some ways–for one thing the inclusion of the intersex rep was well placed and poignant. I think more time could have been spent explaining what being intersex actually is for the audience who is unfamiliar, but this rep was both important and necessary. Johnston also wrote in such a way that there were these wonderful breaks in prose–text messages, articles, etc–their inclusion provided insight and explanations into the world Johnston has created. Lastly, I was very pleased with the ending…how despite all of the lovey dovey romanticism the audience was provided a reality check. Yes, there is a resolution, but not everything ended “perfectly”. Not everything ended the way that the characters wanted it to. It was in these final moments that the audience was given a glimpse at their character growth.
That Inevitable Victorian Thing attempts to tell a story that it is not capable of–it had just as many weak moments as strong moments and those that were strong weren’t able to carry the story in its entirety. I finished the novel with a wanting for more explanation of the world we were in, of the situations the characters had been placed in in the first place, although I was satisfied with the ending. There were many moments of teenagers being teenagers, and I wish that those had been able to shine through a bit more.
Title: Truly Devious
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Author: Maureen Johson
Publishing: January 16th 2018 by HarperCollins
Genre: YA; Mystery
Date Read: October 2017
Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place,” he said, “where learning is a game.”
Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym “Truly, Devious.” It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history. True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: She will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester. But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy. The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder.
The two interwoven mysteries of this first book in the Truly Devious series dovetail brilliantly, and Stevie Bell will continue her relentless quest for the murderers in books two and three.
I cannot even being to express to you all how excited I was to start this novel. I absolutely adore Vermont, so you can imagine my excitement! However, just like That Inevitable Victorian Thing, I really loved the premise of Truly Devious, but not the execution of it. This was unfornate–the start was so strong. I am obsessed with boarding schools in YA (See Winger) and especially ones full of mysteriously fun things like underground tunnels, old houses, and secret rooms!!! However, in Truly Devious I quickly grew tired of the Johnson’s watered down/weak prose. Every once in awhile there would be a flash of wonderful, like “…pretty late summer morning, as if the season wanted to show off before everything went to pieces and the trees got naked and everything died” (*ARC pg 212) but these moments were few and far between.
Overall I wish that some of the moments/characters had been more fleshed out. Other than our protagonist Stevie, I felt like I didn’t understand many of the other characters at all (and there were so many of them)! I also wish that we had been able to spend more time in the past before the kidnapping so that the audience would be able to understand both the politics that affected Bellingham’s life but also just what his life/his family’s life was like in the before time. The romance in this novel was thrown in there rather haphazardly…but despite its strange placement I can’t help but praise the teenage awkwardness and insecurities that I think grounded some of Johnson’s characters. What was even more haphazard? THAT ENDING. I just simply could not believe the cliff hanger that I was left on–I haven’t read a cliff hanger like that since the dystopian trilogy debacles of 2012-2014! I was truly so shocked…
Overall, Truly Devious is one of those delicious mysteries that you can’t help but devour even when the story was bogged down with unnecessary character tangents. I can’t help but remain engaged because of that cliffhanger–I am curious as to how it ends.
As you can tell, I’ve had a bit of a “meh” streak lately with my reads. Recommend me some “wow” books–I’m in the mood for something really fun. Have a wonderful November (I’m still deciding whether or not to do NaNoWrimo…I’ll probably decide tomorrow…on the first day I know)!